Audio Network’s Chris Blakeston and IWC Media’s Rachel Bell review the latest TV shows.

Chris Blakeston is head of music sales at Audio Network

The past is a foreign land, or so they say, but with a new baby and a builder in my kitchen, the present seems a pretty strange place as well. So, it was with relief that I sat down to the normality of watching some telly.
Up first, a mere 300 years ago, was History’s Hardest Prison. Greed and fraud have led to the biggest financial meltdown ever, prisons are privately run for profit and you might find yourself in leg irons (bad), the scavenger’s daughter (very bad) or the head screw (it hurts just watching). Thanks, Pulse for your excellent dramatic reconstructions and Piers Hernu’s ‘modfather’ scarves, hair and bad boy attitude. They might have found the perfect re-housing plan for some bankers and soon to be second-homeless MPs.
But wait, these guys had it easy! I’m now transported back 1,000 years – it’s 1066 and a lot of uninvited chaps are pouring over the Channel, giving the Anglo-Saxons a hard time. I loved 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth. Using entertaining historical drama interspersed with beautiful (check out the Bayeux tapestry) and informative original source material. The characters from the work-shy Leofric to Gyrd the Beserker Viking, are lovable and I found myself surprisingly engaged. Great drama, great sound, dramatic, inclusive and informative.
Further back still: 1,500 years ago. The BBC introduces the only man on the planet who can excite us about quills and parchment: Dan Snow. He discovers that the Anglos and Saxons are from Germanic and Norse tribes (the 1066 boys were multicultural already). This deserves a bigger audience than I fear it will get, but stick with How the Celts Saved Britain – you will be a better person.
These three shows were brilliantly conceived, reassuringly escapist yet informative and entertaining. As I return to the chaos of my roofless kitchen, the next parliamentary revelation and a newborn baby, I realise that not only does history repeat itself but it’s spectacularly relevant in today’s challenging times.

Rachel Bell is head of specialist factual at IWC Media

Ooh, I love it when history plays rough. History’s Hardest Prison features city boy turned gold smuggler Piers Hernu as our guide to London’s infamous Fleet Prison, and what a ripe and enjoyable watch it is.
Well told and pacey, with great, if slightly overplayed parallels drawn between our bold but greedy presenter’s own time in a Nepalese nick, and the suffering of the 17th-century debtors in their jail. Colourful and enjoyable recon too.
If History’s Hardest Prison is a boy’s own romp, Justin Hardy’s 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth is altogether posher fare. It is still one for the boys – that vast clan of Tolkien fans who now go to New Zealand for their holidays. A fully dramatised two-part account of the events of 1066 from the viewpoint of the common man, it is beautifully shot and has a terrific score. This is television for the literate – those happy to read both subtitles translating Anglo-Saxon, and the rather irritating inter-titles that keep popping up lending historical verisimilitude to the events on screen. It is a bit slow in places, with a couple of creaky dialogue scenes, but the Battle of Stamford Bridge is a brilliant and moving ending to programme one. The film looks great, I love the slightly cod Anglo-Saxon chronicle voice-over and I applaud the ambition.
More mist, more landscape, more prows slicing through the water – it’s another history film. How The Celts Saved Britain takes us back 500 years before the Norman invasion but, as traditional presenter-led history, was an altogether more straightforward affair than either C4’s drama or Nat Geo’s prison romp. I’m a great fan of Dan Snow and, as a red-headed Scot, was looking forward to this film.
Sadly, I found it muddled, and wasn’t sure what story it was telling to whom. The life of St Patrick could have been a thread to pull us through – instead the film had a more encyclopaedic big-history approach and I found it a bit relentless. Too much history, not enough storytelling.

History’s Hardest Prison
Production company: Pulse Films
Producer: David Wilson
Executive producer: Simon Breen
Director: David Wilson
Post: In-house
TX: 17 May, 9pm, National Geographic Channel

1066: The Battle for Middle Earth
Production company: Hardy Pictures
Producer: Susan Horth
Director: Justin Hardy
Post: Pepper Post/Aquarium
TX: Monday 18 and Tuesday 19 May, 9pm, C4

How the Celts Saved Britain
Production company: BBC Northern Ireland
Producer: Steven Clarke
Exec producer: Detlef Siebert, Paul McGuigan
Director: Steven Clarke
TX: Monday 25 May, 9pm, and Monday June 1, 9pm, BBC4